Tours include biking Halemaumau.
Volcano bike tour combines exercise, relaxation
Bikevolcano.com's Bike Kilauea Volcano & Wine Tasting Tour offers an eruption of sensory experiences as you explore an ancient lava tube, view craters big enough to house an entire subdivision, and, if you're lucky, watch molten lava's spectacular journey from rift zone to the sea.
The setting for this four-and-half-hour adventure is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes two of the Big Island's five volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
The current eruption of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, began on Jan. 3, 1983, and volcanologists can't predict when it will end.
When Gwendolyn Hill decided to launch Bikevolcano.com a year ago, there was no question HVNP would be the focus of its guided tour.
"Ours is the most exciting bike ride on the island because in a very short distance the terrain dramatically changes and the scenery is breathtaking," said Hill.
"Imagine cycling along the edge of an immense caldera, riding over moon-like terrain with one-ton boulders along the road, then coasting through a pristine rain forest with native birds singing as the ground steams from a passing mist shower. It's incredible to witness this up close, and to experience the diverse scents and sounds of nature."
The tour begins at HVNP's Visitor Center, where you'll receive an orientation and safety briefing. After that, you'll embark on a 20-minute van ride part of the way around Kilauea Caldera, which measures two miles wide and more than three miles long.
A visit to steam vents is the first stop.
Steam Vents, the first stop, is literally a hot spot. Volcanic rocks heat groundwater, which rises to the surface as steam. Only grasses and plants with shallow roots can grow here.
Then you'll hop on a mountain bike and cruise to the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, which, perched on the rim of the caldera, features displays of seismographs; vintage equipment once used by volcanologists; clothing and gear they wear when out in the field; and a gift shop filled with volcano-themed videos, books, maps and more.
The museum is named after the renowned geologist who came from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1912 to establish and serve as the first director of the adjacent Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Scientists at the observatory (closed to the public) monitor and conduct research on volcanic activity in the park.
Next come stops at Kilauea's southwest rift zone and 300-foot-deep, 3,000-foot-wide Halemaumau Crater, said to be the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. A 15-minute walk leads to a lookout from which the full depth and breadth of the stark pit crater are revealed.
Tours include riding a trail through the rain forest.
From there, you'll glide along Chain of Craters Road through an ohia rain forest and past other pit craters; cinder cones; and "lava trees" formed when magma engulfed, cooled and solidified around trees.
The trees burned to ash and lava that hadn't hardened drained into fissures, leaving eerie hollow pillars.
"Most of the 18-mile biking route is downhill and on level, paved roads and trails," said Hill. "We've taken out children as young as 12, and our oldest participant was 78. Exploring the park by bike is preferable to a car because nothing separates you from the beauty and drama of nature."
Pedal as much or as little of the course as you want; the van follows the group and you can opt to ride in it at any time.
Tour participants eat lunch at the seaside.
AFTER LUNCH at scenic Kealakomo Overlook, the van transports everyone the final four miles to the coast, where you may see rivers of lava pouring into the ocean. It's a half-mile walk over rugged terrain to the closest and safest vantage point.
"Seeing the birth of new land is absolutely amazing," said Hill. "Whenever I see lava traveling in inexplicable directions, it reinforces my belief that it is alive and controlled by the will of Madame Pele."
Another highlight is Thurston Lava Tube, discovered in 1913 by local newspaper publisher Lorrin Thurston. It was formed 500 years ago when the surface of a lava stream cooled, creating a crust, while its still-molten interior continued to move downhill.
A stop at Pauahi Crater is also included.
The lava eventually drained, leaving a 1,500-foot "tunnel," nearly 400 feet of which is lighted.
An additional 1,100 feet of the tube is not lighted, but you can explore it on your own with a flashlight.
Volcano Winery provides the perfect conclusion to a day on the go. You'll taste refreshing libations that blend traditional wine grapes with macadamia nut honey, guava and jaboticaba berries.
Similarly, Hill feels the Bike Kilauea Volcano & Wine Tasting Tour is just the right mix: "A little exercise and a little relaxation add up to a lot fun!"
If You Go ...
Bike Kilauea Volcano & Wine Tasting Tour
» Mailing address: P.O. Box 7474, Hilo, Hawaii 96720-8945
» Pick-ups: Daily, from Port of Hilo (8:30 a.m.), Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (8:45 a.m.), Volcano Winery (9:45 a.m.) and the Visitor Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (10 a.m.).
» Cost: $130 per person (minimum age 12), including round-trip transportation, all equipment, lunch, beverages and wine tasting for 21 and older at Volcano Winery. Those who are pregnant and/or have heart and respiratory problems are not allowed to bike, however, they can ride along in the van (cost is $100 per person). Kamaaina rates are $120 per cyclist and $90 per van rider.
» Lunch: Sandwich choices include Chicken Macadamia Nut Salad; Roast Turkey Breast and Swiss Cheese; Wasabi Tuna Salad; Roast Beef and Cheddar with Horseradish, Mayonnaise, and Pesto; Veggie Cheese on Foccaccia; Spicy Curry Tofu; and Ham and Swiss on Rye. Lunch also includes a cookie and choice of juice, soda or water.
» Call: (808) 934-9199 or (888) 934-9199
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» On the Net:
» Notes: Conditions at the 4,000-foot summit of Kilauea change daily, and can be rainy and chilly in any season. Temperatures may be up to 15 degrees cooler than at sea level. Expect hot, dry and windy weather at the end of Chain of Craters Road. Wear layered clothing, a hat, closed-toe shoes, sunglasses and sunscreen. Bring a camera.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.